Could Young Blood Stop Alzheimer's?

Stanford University researchers have found that changes in the composition of our blood as we age may contribute to the deterioration of memory and other brain functions. Transfusing younger blood into an older body may help keep diseases like Alzheimer's at bay, perhaps indefinitely.

Dr Saul Villeda, who led the research, said he now plans to test the therapy on a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease, in which brain connections break down and cause loss of memory and learning ability.

Speaking at the Society for Neuroscience conference in New Orleans on Tuesday he said: "I think any sort of disease that has that component, there is a chance this might help.

"What I am thinking is if we can address it earlier, when our body still has the control to prevent this from happening, then we might not have to cure Alzheimer's, we might just be able to stop it."

Dr Villeda said older people's blood may damage the brain, and other parts of the body such as the muscles and vital organs, because it contains a greater number of inflammatory proteins in its plasma.

He gave a group of 18-month old mice, which were nearing the end of their lifespans, eight transfusions of younger mice's plasma over the course of a month, adding up to five per cent of their total blood supply.

They were then put in a water maze where they had to learn the route to a hidden platform on which they could stand. Untreated mice usually made two or three wrong turns but the treated group were able to find the right path most of the time.

"They were 18 months old but they were acting much younger, like a four to six-month-old," Dr Villeda said.

He also found that mice given a younger blood supply began to sprout new synapses in their brains, which carry messages between nerve cells, giving them 20 per cent more than the untreated mice on average.

Science fiction Grandmaster Robert Heinlein wrote about this idea in his 1941 novel Methuselah's Children:

"It consists largely in replacing the entire blood tissue in an old person with new, young blood. Old age, so they tell me, is primarily a matter of the progressive accumulation of the waste poisons of metabolism. The blood is supposed to carry them away, but presently the blood gets so clogged with the poisons that the scavenging process doesn’t take place properly. Is that right, Doctor Hardy?"

Heinlein remarks in the story that this is a simplified version of the idea, and its purpose was to extend life, rather than just help with diseases. Still, the idea of blood transfusions as a therapy itself is there. Heinlein assumed a developed artificial/cloned blood supply but this is technology we are also working towards (see Blood From Stem Cells: Tru Blood For Real?).

I'd also like to point out that I've turned comments back on and the contact form is also open.

Via Telegraph; also, read about earlier research on how young blood revives aging muscles at Science Daily. Thanks to broklynite for submitting the tip on this story.

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